What to Expect After Your
Hand, Wrist or Elbow Surgery
This guide is intended to provide you with all the information you need to care for your hand, wrist and/or elbow after surgery. If you are still unsure about anything or have any questions, contact your doctor for further guidance.
Pain & swelling
After surgery, it’s normal to experience pain for the first 24 to 48 hours as the anesthetic wears off. You can reduce swelling and pain by elevating and icing the surgical area in the first two to three days post-operation.
Apply ice for 20 to 30 minutes at a time, three to four times a day, and always remember to place a towel between the ice and your skin to avoid burning your skin. Elevate your hand and wrist above your heart and avoid dangling your hand by your side.
- When wearing a sling, adjust it to keep your hand near your opposite shoulder, with your elbow flexed at about a 90-degree angle.
- When sitting, prop your arm up next to you on several pillows, with your hand pointed toward the sky.
- When sleeping, you can remove the sling and elevate your arm on a pillow next to you or across your chest.
You may experience stiffness in the morning and soreness at night. This is perfectly normal—the middle of the day will usually be your best. If the surgical site throbs at any time during the first few weeks post-surgery, ice and elevation should help.
Upon discharge, you may be given a prescription for pain medication. Please inform us of any known drug allergies or history of stomach ulcers. If you experience any side effects from the medication, such as nausea or a skin rash, stop taking it and call your physician’s office.
You should take the pain medication before the local anesthetic wears off, before you feel pain. Some medications may make you drowsy, so please limit your activities and do not drive while you are taking them
You may resume taking your usual medications unless otherwise instructed by your surgeon. For mild pain, you can take over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and, unless your surgeon advises otherwise, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen
It is a good idea to take the prescribed pain medication approximately one hour before bedtime if you experience pain during the night. Keep your medication and a glass of water on your night table
Eat simple, plain foods for the first 24 hours after your surgery. The medications you receive during and after surgery may make you nauseated. Resume your previous diet as tolerated
Dressing & drainage
A soft dressing, with or without a splint, has been applied to your surgical site. This dressing should be comfortable and absorb any leakage of fluid and blood. It may become moist or bloodstained, but this is not usually a cause for concern. Keep the dressing clean and dry until your first post-operative visit unless instructed otherwise by your surgeon.
If you have sutures (stitches), these will be removed at your first or second post-operative visit. Please call your physician’s office if you experience pain and/or swelling that do not subside with ice and elevation.
Bathing & showering
When bathing or showering, cover the dressing with a plastic bag and seal the end of the bag with duct tape. You can also purchase dressing and cast protectors at a pharmacy or surgical supply store. If you get your dressing wet, please call the office for instructions.
Exercise & therapy
Prior to discharge, you will be shown exercises that you can safely perform at home to decrease swelling and prevent stiffness. Depending on the surgery you had, occupational or physical therapy may be recommended. Your surgeon will give you a referral at your first postoperative visit.
Please call the office as soon as possible to make a follow-up appointment. Your physician will tell you how soon you need to return for a visit.
Returning to work
How quickly you can return to work depends on the requirements of your job and the type of surgery you’ve had. Your physician will instruct you on when you can expect to return.
What to watch for
If you have any of the following problems, please notify your physician’s office immediately.
- Persistent fever greater than 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit
- Persistent bleeding or drainage from the surgical incision
- Bleeding through the bandage
- Increasing pain and swelling of the surgical site
- Increasing redness around the surgical incision
In the event of an emergency, go to your nearest emergency room.